Archive for November, 2011

Strike Fighters 2 F-14Right into the Danger Zone

Indie flight sim developer Third Wire Productions has released new screenshots of their upcoming addition to the Strike Fighters series featuring the US Navy’s classic variable geometry interceptor, the F-14 Tomcat. The Strike Fighter 2 series has so far included games set in Israel, Vietnam, and Europe, each with its own unique complement of aircraft. Strike Fighters 2: North Atlantic will offer additional Cold War-era aircraft for air combat aficionados everywhere.

Strike Fighters 3 F-14 Tomcat ScreenshotStrike Fighters 2 F-14 Tomcat Screen 1Strike Fighters 2 F-14 Screenshot

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There Is No Escaping the Games You Hate

Dead Space Dull

I dub thee..DULL SPACE.

We all have games that we hate. Games that we utterly despise, that we cringe at the thought of replaying. I’m not talking about sections of good games that piss us off.  I’m talking about entire games that make you clench your teeth and shout to the heavens in anger. Most of the time, when a game makes us that angry, we set it aside. We stop playing, we put it away, maybe even sell it off to some poor schmuck and minimize our losses on it. Except….except with the exceptions. Those rare games that we can’t stand, but that we HAVE to finish. It’s not just a challenge. It’s a gauntlet thrown by the developers saying, “Hey…we think you’re gonna give up, punk. Are you a bad enough dude to beat a game you hate like rats?”

And the thing is, these games aren’t E.T., Superman 64 or the like – in general, most of the games I’ve had the hate-but-must-play reactions to have been games that are either widely liked, or at least have a strong following. It seems there are a lot of pretty popular games that I just can’t stand – GTA IV, Kingdom Hearts, and Starcraft II stand as probably the most highly rated games that I can’t be bothered with – but it takes a special game for me to hate, yet still hammer through to the end.

Case in point: my most recent object of odium, Dead Space. I don’t know if the PC port is just really awful or if the game is just extraordinarily dull by my tastes, but I bought it back in April during a Steam sale and…I’ve so far been able to get six hours into it. Roughly an hour a month, right? Well, a few weeks ago I decided I was gonna persevere and finish it. I still haven’t, so maybe it’s a work in progress, or maybe it will just go in the games I never bothered to finish pile. So maybe it’s a bad example.

I want to punch him right in the face tatoo. Through the screen.

I can feel your anger. It gives you focus. Makes you stronger. Emperor Palpatine

A much better example, the painful obsession that haunted my senior year in High School, was Final Fantasy VIII. Now, to start with, it’s a love-it-or-hate-it entry in a franchise where every single game is contested as having ruined the series forever. But since I really enjoyed Final Fantasy IX, I thought maybe VIII was a one-off (turns out I hated FFX, also, but wasn’t motivated to finish it). I had actually first purchased Final Fantasy VIII when it released in 1999 and, after playing for about ten hours and finding the game really didn’t gel with me, I put it back on the shelf. Fast forward to mid-2005, when my interest in the Final Fantasy series picked up again, I dug through my collection of PlayStation games and decided to give it another shot. This time, I wasn’t gonna let anything get in my way. Senior year, brain is already elsewhere, why not plunge it into a world of Gunblades and Guardian Forces? Certainly now that I was a moody and annoying teenager, I’d appreciate all the brooding, teen soap opera angst!

Oh man, that was a long two months.

Final Fantasy VIII Junction System

My personal vision of Hell.

Final Fantasy VIII, of course, put you in the shoes of a moody introvert named Squall. Squall proceeds from his High School/Military Base Balamb Garden with his annoying “friend” Zell and his teacher, who is both younger than him and has the hots for him (creepy on both counts), Quistis. He’s introduced to Guardian Forces – basically, summon monsters, and the ability to draw magic out of people, places and things and junction them to his stats (or alternately, USE the magic spells, but you’re losing a lot of stats that way). Of course, there are more annoying people to meet along the way (imagine if Final Fantasy VII had stocked your party with nothing but personality clones of Yuffie and Cait Sith and you’ll get my meaning) and getting embroiled in a lot of nonsense. That’s the plot in a nutshell – nonsense. Sure it’s got the usual Star Wars-ish “rebels vs. the evil empire”, but it’s so convoluted and out there that it just completely alienated me. The thing with time-traveling sorceresses was obtuse, and the major plot twist was both contrived and vastly improbable. And the romance, one of the chief selling points of the game and one of the things every fan of the game uses to defend it, is completely awful. Squall hates Rinoa up until some arbitrary point where they’re like “OH WE’RE IN WUB!” and you start to wonder if you missed something.

All the while, you get snippets/psychic flashbacks of the much cooler Laguna. It’s like Square was literally just mocking me, baiting me with “Hey, want to play with a character that’s not a complete tool? Here you go – AW TOO SLOW!”. The game even gives you time for these feelings to gel as you pilot the ploddingly slow Balamb Garden around the world in the middle of the game. Padding of the worst kind.

Final Fantasy VIII Fan Manga

Like all Final Fantasy games, VIII has fans so dedicated that they create erotic fanfiction. I saw this and I haven't stopped laughing since.

But I had to keep playing.

It felt like Final Fantasy VIII would win if I didn’t beat it first. In a way, I became addicted to it. Every day after school, I was playing it. After getting home from work at Lowe’s, I would settle in and play it. I battled the aliens, monsters, sorceresses. I battled the silly and often incoherent storyline. And I battled the awful Junction system and the 15-volume set of tutorials it required. And one day, when I reached the Sorceress’ Castle at the end of time compression…I could actually enjoy it. It’s frankly the best dungeon in the game. I didn’t have to draw spells anymore. I didn’t have to junction them to my stats. By then, I already had the good stuff set where it needed to be, and I could just enjoy the totally awesome music, style, and enemies in that final area. Granted, it felt like I’d had my blood replaced with acid while someone electrified my nipples to get to that point, but by the time I got to the hilariously incoherent ending, I was satisfied. Not with the game, but definitely with myself. I had conquered. I had fought the proverbial dragon and won.

And what did it get me? Nothing. Absolutely nothing other than a smug sense of self-satisfaction and roughly 70 hours lost to a game I still despise to this day.  Was it worth it? That’s a tough question. I’m not particularly proud of spending that much time on something I so fervently hated. In the end, I beat it just to say I had.  There’s probably a lesson to be had in there.

Oh, and I do love the musical score in Final Fantasy VIII, for the record. Nobuo Uematsu is like John Williams – even if the game/film is dire, they bring their A-game. No matter what.

They May Be PC Gamers, Robin, But They’re Still Human Beings…

Warner Bros. Interactive announced today what is hopefully the final release date for their oft-delayed PC version of Batman: Arkham City: the game will debut November 25th on Steam and in retail form, and is available now through OnLive, Origin (gag me with a spoon), and the Impulse Driven store. Better late than never, I guess, but WB really dropped the ball on this one.

In addition, the Robin Bundle Pack featuring the Boy Wonder is now available in the XBL Marketplace and PSN Store, as well as all digital distribution services. The pack includes the Robin character for use in all Challenge Maps, as well as two new maps. It also includes two alternate costumes of Bird Boy. Outstanding.

The Smell of Plutonium in the Morning

The first-person shooter genre is one that is all too often wanting for inspiration, as cookie-cutter modern-day military shooters with simplistic mechanics have come to dominate the scene. However, newcomers Interwave have taken the dependable Source engine that has powered such convention-flouting classics as Portal, Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead to bring a fresh spin to online shooters with a dash of real-time strategy with their new title, Nuclear Dawn. The multiplayer-only game allows you to choose one of two factions, the Western capitalist Consortium or the neo-Soviet Empire, each with their own set of weapons, tech trees, and visual style. The Consortium has a more streamlined and futuristic style, while the Empire has a more industrial look and feel.

Nuclear Dawn RTS ViewThe part of the game you’ll probably be playing the most (as there are plenty of slots for soldiers but only one for Commander) is the first-person shooter portion. As a soldier, you have several objectives – capturing resources, stemming enemy advances, and taking the enemy base while defending your own. There are several classes: the standard Assault troop with an image enhancer, the power-suited Exo who can wield miniguns and siege weapons, the Support who can provide medical, engineering, or fire support, and the Stealth who can cloak and perform sneak attacks. Each class has several different loadouts that can be chosen. Some require the Commander to research a tech upgrade, so you can’t use the Siege kit right away. Each class has a specific class-based ability as well as being able to uze Gizmos you earn as you gain experience. The gameplay itself isn’t difficult to get into; if you’ve played any FPS in the past ten years you’ll be able to jump right in (although you’ll probably have to get used to a few things – battles are about a half hour in length and death can come swiftly to the unprepared).

The role of Commander should be instantly familiar to RTS players, and it feels and operates quite similarly to the first Dawn of War game (this is definitely a good thing). You can command your units to capture points or attack locations, and they receive experience points for following orders. The captured resources will then gradually tick into your supply, and you can use them to purchase new structures and technologies. You can easily make a tight, compact base with a mess of turrets to catch incoming infantry, or a base that meanders all over the battlefield to provide forward spawn points and offensive defensive turrets (a tactic we used to call “spider bases” in Command & Conquer). The striking thing is that the RTS segment is just as well-implemented and interesting as the shooter segments (in some cases even more so), but be warned: a slow or wasteful command style can easily get a mutiny going against you.

Nuclear Dawn Engineer Screen

The Support/Engineer subclass is vital for keeping your buildings in shape.

Maps are large, and quite varied, ranging from the very open streets of New York City to an almost claustrophobic-by-comparison Tokyo. Levels are pretty well layered, with several floors and often quite a few shortcuts. The maps are speckled with resource points to capture, as well as plenty of neutron-bombed buildings to take cover in. Sometimes they can seem overwhelmingly big, and it can take a long time to run to the front after spawning (and spawns take quite a while themselves). This can be something of a pain if you’re getting sniped as soon as you hit the battlefield. This can be remedied by the Commander placing a forward spawn, but you do have to let him know.

The online community is rather small, and Nuclear Dawn has had the rotten luck of being a small studio effort with little advertising released in the midst of the industry’s carpetbombing of AAA titles. The servers can be rather barren at times, usually with only one or two servers getting all the action (with 32 players to a game). This can be a pain if you’re bored of a particular map and that’s the one being played. However, the servers themselves are good, and for the most part the community is a pleasant one. Perhaps things will pick up for it when gamers tire of Modern Warfare (although considering MW has sold the same game three times, that may be unlikely). There are a few bugs of note, as well, but the Source engine makes these things fairly minor. It’s become a highly polished engine over the years. My biggest complaint remains the lengthy spawn times, as you’re usually itching to get back into the action after some jerk caps you.

I also want to point out that I appreciate the Interwave team’s particular approach to a post-apocalyptic future, particularly the fact that they’re not following the cookie-cutter Fallout/Mad Max style that Borderlands and Rage were so eager to replicate. It works well – it’s the future, but it’s not so far in the future that things are significantly changed. I appreciated it, feeling some kinship between it and the cyberpunk future of Crusader: No Remorse. I imagine, if there were nighttime missions, they’d look something like the opening of the Terminator movies (expansion? Pretty please?).

The Final Verdict

Nuclear Dawn is a game that definitely deserves more love than it’s getting – if you’re tired of modern-day conflicts and want to jump into an intense future war, or if you have a flair for the strategic and want to try your hand at commanding troops that can actually think and operate on their own, then by all means give Nuclear Dawn a shot. It’s one of the more unique multiplayer experiences, and is available for both Mac and PC on Steam.

BNBGAMING Recommended Award
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Tanooki PETA Game

Funniest nightmare fuel ever.

The Fur Hits the Fan

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and NOT the Greek town, pulse ejector thrust augmentor, or Australian actress Peta Wilson) have issued a finger-wagging statement that explains that they are none too pleased with the return of Mario’s Tanooki suit in Super Mario 3D Land:

When on a mission to rescue the princess, Mario has been known to use any means necessary to defeat his enemy — even wearing the skin of a raccoon dog to give him special powers.

Tanooki may be just a “suit” in Mario games, but in real life, tanuki are raccoon dogs who are skinned alive for their fur. By wearing Tanooki, Mario is sending the message that it’s OK to wear fur.

Oh my. First, let me register my shock- MY COMPLETE AND UTTER SHOCK- that PETA has managed to issue a brain-dead, knee-jerk overreaction that completely misses the point. As we know, up until now, PETA has been a group that is level-headed, sane, and completely in touch with reality and culture. I am shocked. SHOCKED! As with their umbrage at Super Mario 3D Land, they’ve included a rather poor Flash game with the statement. It finds you as a skinned tanuki chasing a flying Mario through the gore-soaked rectum of Hell and…grabbing coins. The only command at your disposal is to jump, and the physics are terrible. So it’s kind of like a 16-bit sidescroller version of Hellraiser II, programmed by an orangutang throwing poo at a keyboard (which is probably closer to the truth than we realize). I guess the point of this is to call attention to the fact that cruelty is inflicted on real-life tanuki.

Tanuki Statue
Traditional Tanuki statue. Note the massive balls that Duke Nukem would envy.

Of course, this is ignoring the fact that the tanuki is a symbolic figure in Japanese folklore, often a jovial and comical one that represents several traditional virtues. The folkloric tanuki also traditionally has comedically oversized testicles. Now, assuming Mario IS using an actual tanuki skin and not some kind of advanced nanosuit in the shape of a tanuki, or some kind of transformative magic; I would fault him more for not using the tanuki’s scrotum as a parachute. That’s just wasteful.

Red Dead Redemption BEARIn any case, this continues PETA’s hilariously scattershot record of criticizing games that don’t even suggest cruelty to animals (except for rampant turtle murder, natch) when other games actually involve hunting, skinning etc. (not that I think any focus should be put on these, either – I think PETA should focus their views on real-life or, better yet, stop bothering us). I mean let me put it this way: Mario 3D Land is out this week. Also out this week are Skyrim and Modern Warfare 3. Skyrim contains plenty of native fauna you can hunt, skin and fillet (albeit non-graphically), and Modern Warfare 3 contains dogs with bombs strapped to them. Hell, you can go deeper into the past – Red Dead Redemption features animals you can hunt and gut. But considering a good portion of these animals are bears, and bears are unpredictable engines of mayhem, perhaps they’re best off not pissing bears off. Of course, PETA, bears don’t tend to treat other animals very ethically. Surely, the solution is for PETA members to go into the wild and threaten to take the bears’ cubs into protective custody until they start being nicer to other animals.

PETA didn’t give a flying fuck when Lara Croft was gunning down white tigers in Tibet, when Umbrella experimented on dobermans, or when Mudokons were being slaughtered and turned into supremely tasty snacks by RuptureFarms. THINK OF THE MUDOKONS! So why should we listen to their thin-skinned bleating now? In any case, it does not matter because real animals are NOT being harmed in these video games.

Repeat to yourself: It’s just a game. I should really just relax.

LEAVE MARIO ALONE.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve a date with a bucket of the Colonel’s original recipe.

Look! A Clever Header!

Discworld II ScreenTerry Pratchett’s Discworld series is one of the longest-running series of stories in any genre ever. The main series comprises a whopping 39 books featuring Pratchett’s comedic fantasy, and before J.K. Rowling came along and ruined everything, he was the UK’s best-selling author not just of fantasy, but of any genre.

Since there are 39 books in the Discworld canon, it is perhaps impossible for me to summarize them with any kind of brevity. So I’ll talk about the basics of the Discworld. The world itself is, for starters, flat. The disc rides on the back of four massive elephants. The elephants ride on the back of the even massive-er turtle A’Tuin, who flies through the universe’s space with all that on his back. The Disc itself is home to several continents, and in the early Discworld tales (at least the ones I’m most familiar with), much of the action takes place in the city of Ankh-Morpork, home to the alma mater of many an intolerable and incompetent wizard, Unseen University.

The hero of the first Discworld novel (as well as two of the games based on the series) is Unseen University alumnus Rincewind, the consistently cowardly private part of the Gods – they play with him for their sport. While he’s saddled with the role of protagonist, he usually leaves the actual heroics and interesting feats of not running and hiding to other characters. Get used to him, because for the majority of the Discworld games, you’re in his robe and silly-looking pointy hat.

The first Discworld game was a text adventure based on The Colour of Magic. Released for the Commodore 64, Amstrad and ZX Spectrum, in 1986, it’s also probably the rarest and hardest to find of the Discworld games. As far as I know, Wikipedia could be lying to me (it’s hard to judge something’s existence while Jimmy Wales gives you a creepy, perverted staredown). I haven’t seen any hard proof that this game exists, and as such, rumors of its existence should be taken with a grain of salt. As the game was released on cassette tapes, it’s quite likely that any remaining copies would have long been recorded over with pop songs.

The first Discworld game that anyone remembers, however, is the 1995 point-and-click adventure game by Psygnosis. Very much in the style of the LucasArts graphic adventures of the time, it had high production values and a phenomenal voice-over cast, featuring ex-Python Eric Idle in a pitch-perfect performance as Rincewind, alongside the Third Doctor himself, John Pertwee, and BlackAdder alum Tony Robinson in supporting roles. The game received some criticism for its high degree of difficulty, but did well enough to receive a sequel in 1996, complete with a revamped art and animation style. Discworld II featured one of the more popular and well-known characters in the Discworld universe – Death! The game was somewhat more moderate in difficulty than its predecessor, and as a result was much better received. It also had the superb song “That’s Death” in the intro.

The final game in the Discworld series was Discworld Noir, which was only released in Europe (because by 1999 here in the States, our typical howling bloodlust had driven graphic adventures from the market in favor of Unreal Tournament and Counter-Strike). As it is currently exorbitantly expensive to import, I have not imported it. Maybe sometime in the future. But for now, coffee and ramen.

The Lost (Uncanny) Valley

New screenshots of Crystal Dynamics’ reboot of Eidos’ venerable franchise have surfaced. What do they show? Some disappointing texture work alongside a truly off-model Lara Croft. I’m not sure what it is but…for one, there seems to be something weird going on with her lips. It just bugs me. If Zoey from Left 4 Dead had a brown-eyed sister that got stuck in the uncanny valley, it would be the reboot Lara.